Stephen King Reading Challenge: Carrie (1974)

Carrie coverDuring my travel to the ALA Midwinter conference in Boston, Massachusetts this past weekend I brought along the first two books for my 2016 Stephen King Reading Challenge, Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot, on my Kindle. Carrie was a short, fast read that I consumed on the train ride up. For some reason I had been convinced that I had read this book before, but apparently I had not because the text certainly was not familiar.

Please note, there will be SPOILERS for Carrie in this post. If you get spoiled, please note the following: I just warned you; the book is over 40 years old; there have been two major film adaptations. Do not complain to me.

Carrie is a simple story of a girl pushed beyond her limits and who ultimately has the means to strike back in a catastrophic fashion. The story is simple and still feels relevant today. It is easy to imagine a similar story being set in a high school today, albeit with new technology, different clothing styles, and different slang (in fact this is what Kimberly Peirce does with her 2013 movie adaptation).

In his first published book, Stephen King already begins exploring the underbelly of small town life in America. Chamberlain, Maine is a place where everyone knows everyone else and any unusual circumstances quickly travel over the town’s party lines. The book tackles concepts like conformity, and mob excitement. It explores youthful exuberance and how quickly that can turn to malice – malicious and deadly in this case.

Before I picked up this book, I was pretty positive that I had read it before, but the text was unfamiliar enough that I realize that this was a new read for me. One of the interesting aspects about the book that I found was that much of its structure was epistolary in nature. We learn of  many of the events in Chamberlain, Maine and their aftermaths through newspaper clippings, hearing transcripts, and excerpts of books written studying the telekinetic (or TK as the book abbreviates it) phenomenon. These missives are mixed in with point-of-view sections from characters like Carrie and Susan Snell, which gives the book a fluid feeling as it slips between the book’s present and the future. The reader finds out early in the novel that it ends in disaster, but the journey is to find how it happens. There were times early in the book where I felt the breaks from the present-day action distracted from the story, breaking the flow of the narrative. As I got deeper into the book, though, they meshed better with the other scenes, and in some cases provided some needed character development.

The other thing that stood out in this book was how hard King worked in places to dismiss any supernatural aspects to Carrie’s telekinetic powers. In fact, the book felt more like a scientific thriller, than the horror fiction that King is affiliated most closely with. Of course not all of King’s book have a supernatural or paranormal nature, but this one seems further away from that aspect than normal. There are places in the novel that can be aptly compared to works by Michael Crichton, as we get a basic examination of the genetic nature of the telekinetic power.

Connections to other Stephen King Works: As this was King’s first published work, there really is not much for it to be connected with, and in my knowledge of his works there really isn’t any other books that reference the events in Carrie. Probably the closest book to this one is Firestarter, as it is another book that examines psychic powers similar to Carrie’s TK ability.

Carrie was an extremely pleasurable read that is largely different than most of Stephen King’s works, but is familiar enough to be a good taste of what he can do as an author. Would highly recommend for anyone looking for a fast thriller or a book that digs into the darkness that can rise in our youths.

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